Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 25, 2021

Biden hosts Quad leaders for first in-person meeting, Biden won't use executive privilege to hide Trump records from Jan. 6 probe, and more

1

Biden hosts Quad leaders for first in-person meeting

President Biden on Friday hosted Australian Prime Scott Morrison, Indiana Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House for the so-called Quad's first in-person summit. The four Indo-Pacific countries have sought to strengthen ties because of their shared concerns about China, though none of the four leaders mentioned Beijing explicitly in their opening remarks, instead focusing on their cooperation on climate change, critical infrastructure, and the coronavirus pandemic. Biden, though, said the four nations jointly believe in a "free and open Indo-Pacific," which was likely a reference to combating Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea. Morrison said the Quad hopes "sovereign rights of all nations are respected" in the region and "disputes are settled peacefully in accordance with international law." The Washington Post writes his meaning "was unmistakable."

2

Biden won't use executive privilege to hide Trump records from Jan. 6 probe

President Biden will not invoke executive privilege to shield former President Donald Trump's records from the Jan. 6 select committee, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. "The president has already concluded that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege," Psaki said. Trump reportedly has yet to ask Biden to protect any records, notes Politico. The White House has been leaning toward releasing to Congress information regarding the whereabouts of Trump and his aides on Jan. 6, The Washington Post reports. The ex-president has said he will cite "executive privilege" to block any requests, "seeking protection from a legal theory that has allowed past presidents and their aides to avoid or delay congressional oversight for decades," writes Politico. Once the documents are delivered, Trump has "30 days to approve or deny the release." If he objects, Biden still has final say on the matter, per Politico.

3

Canadians accused of espionage released from China

Hours after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was released from house arrest in Canada on Friday, China freed two Canadians accused of espionage. Michael Spavor, a founding member of an organization that facilitates international business and cultural ties with North Korea, and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat employed by the International Crisis Group, are headed home after nearly three years. Spavor was facing 11 years in prison, while no decision had been reached in Kovrig's case. The two men were initially detained shorty after Vancouver police arrested Meng in 2018 on a U.S. warrant — she was accused of and eventually admitted to misleading U.S. investigators about Huawei's business dealings in Iran. Meng was released following a deal with U.S. prosecutors. China has maintained that the Spavor and Kovrig arrests were not retaliatory, though the timing of their release casts doubt on that claim.

4

PG&E hit with manslaughter charges over deadly California wildfire

Power company Pacific Gas and Electric has been hit with manslaughter charges in connection with a "completely preventable" California wildfire that left four people dead last year. Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett on Friday announced 31 charges against PG&E after determining the company was "criminally liable" for the 2020 Zogg fire that killed four people and destroyed about 200 homes. In March, officials determined that the fire was sparked by a pine tree coming into contact with PG&E electrical lines. The company has been blamed for a number of fires and in 2019 filed for bankruptcy protection. "PG&E has a history of repeatedly causing wildfires that is not getting better — it's getting worse," Bridgett said in a press briefing. "Those who lost loved ones need justice.

5

China declares cryptocurrency transactions illegal

On Friday, Chinese government agencies declared all cryptocurrency transactions illegal and banned crypto mining across the country. The People's Bank of China said that the Chinese government would "clamp down on virtual currency speculation, and related financial activities and misbehaviour in order to safeguard people's properties and maintain economic, financial and social order." It was an example of China "intensifying its crackdown on cryptocurrencies," CNN wrote, which came after Chinese Vice Premier Liu He previously vowed the government would "clamp down on Bitcoin mining and trading activity." Bitcoin took a hit after Friday's announcement, dropping "as much as 7 percent," The New York Times reports. Vijay Ayyar of the digital currency exchange Luno told CNBC that "Chinese regulators have always been extreme in their views and these comments are not new," but noted that these latest developments came amid a "slightly nervous environment for crypto."

6

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley will run for re-election in 2022

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced Friday morning that he will, in fact, run for an eighth term next year. Grassley, who just turned 88 and has been in the Senate since 1981, has been coy about his 2022 plans for more than a year. "His decision is a victory for national Republicans who have made it clear they wanted Grassley — who has repeatedly been re-elected by double-digit margins — to run again," the Des Moines Register reports, noting that a recent Register poll found him beating leading Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer by 18 percentage points, 55 percent to 37 percent. Several other incumbent Senate Republicans are not seeking re-election, complicating the GOP's hopes of retaking the Senate. 

7

U.S. soldier reports assault at base housing Afghan evacuees

The FBI confirmed Friday that it has launched an investigation into a United States service member's allegation that she was assaulted "by a small group of male evacuees" being housed at Fort Bliss in New Mexico. Details about the alleged assault and the extent of the woman's possible injuries were not released, and it's unclear if anyone has been arrested. The Army's statement on the matter did not clarify whether the evacuees were Afghan, though Lt. Col. Allie M. Payne said the alleged victim was working as part of Operation Allies Welcome, which the Department of Homeland Security describes as an "effort to resettle Afghan refugees."

8

Chris Cuomo accused of sexual harassment by his former boss

Chris Cuomo, the CNN host and brother of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), has been accused of sexual harassment by his former boss at ABC News. Shelley Ross, a journalist who has served as producer at ABC and CBS, in New York Times essay published Friday alleged that Cuomo "sexually harassed me at a going-away party for an ABC colleague" in 2005. Ross, who was formerly Cuomo's executive producer at ABC's Primetime Live, writes that he "walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock," and he allegedly told her, "I can do this now that you're no longer my boss." Ross says Cuomo emailed her to apologize an hour later, and the essay includes a copy of that email.

9

Spanish volcano activity intensifies

Officials on the Spanish Island of La Palma, which is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, ordered more evacuations on Friday in response to intensifying activity from the Cumbre Vieja volcano. More than 6,000 people have evacuated as lava engulfed several communities. About 593 acres, with a 9.8-mile perimeter, have been affected by the flow, and 390 buildings have been destroyed, BBC reports. There are also concerns that when the lava reaches the sea, it could create dangerous plumes of gas that could cause eye, lung, and skin irritations. Meanwhile, the eruptions, which have occurred for six straight days, have created a large ash cloud, which has forced flight cancellations and is now drifting toward the Spanish mainland.

10

Michael K. Williams' death ruled accidental drug overdose

Michael K. Williams, the actor best known for his performances as Omar Little on The Wire and Chalky White on Boardwalk Empire, died this month from an accidental drug overdose, New York City's medical examiner has determined. The city medical examiner announced Friday that the actor's cause of death was "acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin and cocaine," The New York Times reports. His death was ruled accidental. Williams was found dead in his New York apartment on Sept. 6. He was 54.

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